Mayor Ed Lee did not rise to power in the traditional San Francisco way. In one short year, Lee has been catapulted from his longtime role as a behind-the-scenes bureaucrat into The City’s most powerful office, all the while claiming: “I’m not a politician.”
At this time last year, the newly appointed mayor’s sentiment was refreshing for those who had grown tired of ego-driven bickering that bogged down even the simplest decisions at City Hall. But from the moment Lee completed annual budget negotiations and reneged on his pledge not to seek a four-year term, the gloves came off.
Having worked under four previous mayors, Lee must know that whether he likes it or not, his days of floating above politics are over.
Now he must face some of San Francisco’s biggest challenges in years, including massive budget deficits, a promised overhaul of how businesses are taxed in The City, plus his campaign centerpiece push for a revitalized Market Street — which he wants lined with new tech companies while maintaining the area’s established diversity.
Which of these things Lee does — or doesn’t do — will define his legacy.
The San Francisco Examiner sat down with Lee in advance of his Sunday inauguration to get a sampling of his ideas for the next four years.
On running for mayor
Running, to me, was obviously a big personal challenge. It took some convincing — for myself, my family, a lot friends and people I’ve worked with, including Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein and [former Mayor] Willie Brown.
I had to deal with the political activities of the other candidates and the debates, but ultimately when I was in the neighborhoods — bar crawls, if you will, or just talking to people one on one or in groups — they found a way to say that there was an appreciation for me doing this. Some of them actually said, thanks for the sacrifice.
They also acknowledged, in those same words, that running a city like San Francisco is not easy, and making it successful is not easy. Given all the challenges that we have and looking at all the other cities deal with their challenges — most of it economic in nature — everybody kind of feels, and certainly a part of me says, this is a sacrifice. But it’s well worth it.
Charting a mayoral legacy
This city has such an appreciation of its great tourism attraction. But I know many areas across this country can’t sustain themselves with a singular economy. And we’ve seen our ups and downs, so I think it’s setting the foundation for the new economy, which is the high-tech jobs and the bio-life science jobs that I think that are follow-ups to [housing and transit infrastructure] changes that both Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom made.
I think I now get to carry out this phase, which is to deliver the vision of those jobs.
We have to have every building occupied, both on the ground floor and the above floors. The employees going in and out have to be using the areas day and night.
The whole theme is that everybody feels safe to operate as employees, as people who visit and eat and people who want to do entertainment all night long, if they wish.
I think we have to have transformation of people. Those who are challenged with their behavior have to change.
We also have to have an approach where we do concern ourselves with gentrification so that as more people move in, we are also helping people adjust so that they can stay and afford to be here.
That’s what the employees at Twitter and Zendesk told us. They really appreciate the diversity here in San Francisco. It’s not just moving people out and moving new folks in. We have to have that nice blend.
Future of payroll tax
We have given ourselves four months to reach out to all the business groups. There will be different views and opinions. You can have a hybrid [between a payroll and gross receipts tax], and you can also have a phase-in period of time. We want to have a good conversation with everybody and get their best ideas, and then use those ideas to craft what we think could be on the ballot. We’re not saying it has to be on the November ballot, but it could be. We want to have something that is not job punishing, but also something that does not decrease our revenue.
We have to make sure we’re taking care of the whole economic base.
Politicking in 2012 races
I kept out of all the other races during the mayor’s race. I think that I’d be very reluctant — of course, I can always change my mind — but I’d be very reluctant to get into the supervisorial races, mainly because you automatically know there is a winner and loser, and that will create more angst when it is my job to bring as much unity as possible to the board as a whole.
I hope I don’t regret saying that, but it’s just my personal reluctance.
When I had a chance to work with [Bay Area businessman and philanthropist] Warren Hellman, I got to know him as a person, I got to see his eccentricities, but I also got to see him go to work for things that he was passionate about.
It caused me to think, “When we become economically successful as a city, what do we do with that economic success? What do companies do?” I think we have a huge historical tradition in this city — [Donald] Fisher, [Walter] Shorenstein, Hellman — they were that generation of people who were successful, but because they loved The City and knew where the success came from, they returned that in their most philanthropic goals.
The Ron Conways and the Mark Pincuses, along with [Marc] Benioff, are the up-and-coming generation that are going to be part of my vision for economic success. They’re now becoming the new philanthropic generation that I want to work with.
If it’s another mark I want to make, it’s to help create the 21st century philanthropic family of people that are going to similarly show their love of The City.
$263 million: SF budget deficit in 2012-13
$375 million: SF budget deficit in 2013-14
27: Labor contracts to be renegotiated
$32 million: To cover The City’s portion of America’s Cup costs
8.1% Unemployment rate in San Francisco
73%: On-time performance for Muni (lowest since 2008)
600: Police officers to retire in the next three years
Sources: S.F. Budget Office, S.F. Police Officers Association, America’s Cup Organizing Committee, SFMTA
Open to the public
When: 10 a.m. Sunday
Where: City Hall rotunda
What: Cultural dances, followed by words from former Mayor Willie Brown and Lee’s oath of office, administered by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein